Corruption in Mexico Persists Despite Campaign Promises

President López Obrador speaks at the conclusion of the “March Rally in Defense of Oil” in Mexico City in 2013.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

06/24/20 (written by kheinle) – A new report finds that Mexico is faring no better in combatting corruption in 2020 than it did in 2019. The report, “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020,” looks at Latin American countries’ capacity and capability to ‘detect, punish, and prevent corruption.’ It does so against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that “in this environment of emergency spending, relaxed controls, and remote working, the risk of corruption and mismanagement of funds has increased.”  Roberto Simon, Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society / Council of the Americas based in New York, and Geert Aalbers, a partner at Control Risks consultancy organization out of London, co-authored the report that published on June 8, 2020.

Corruption at the National and Regional Levels

Of the 15 Latin American countries included in the Capacity to Combat Corruption index, Mexico ranks in the center in the eighth position with an overall score of 4.55 out of 10.00, just slightly slower than its 2019 score of 4.65. Uruguay ranked highest on the list with the most effective means to combat corruption with a score of 7.78. Continuing to face a humanitarian, political, and economic crisis, Venezuela ranked lowest on the list with a 1.52. The scores are based on 14 indicators (e.g., independence of judicial institutions, strength of investigate journalism) and three sub-categories (legal capacity; democracy and political institutions; and civil society, media, and the private sector). Data is collected from a range of international and national sources, including the World Bank and UNESCO, and from surveys conducted by the report’s co-author, Control Risks.

Looking at the three sub-categories, Mexico ranked eighth region-wide in legal capacity with a score of 4.15 out of 10.00. It also ranked eighth in democracy and political institutions (4.55 of 10.00), and sixth in civil society, media, and the private sector (6.24 of 10.00).

AMLO’s Campaign to Combat Corruption

When looking at levels of corruption since 2019, the report summarizes that “not much has changed for Mexico. In fact,” it continues, “the country has stagnated and maintains a poor ability to detect, punish, and prevent corruption.” This highlights the failure of the López Obrador Administration to adequately address corruption despite campaign promises to do so. “One of the most important [factors that explains Mexico’s paralysis] is having not yet advanced long-term institutional reform.” The authors call out several specific concerns.

First, President López Obrador has largely bypassed or “ignored” the checks put in place by the National Anticorruption System (Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción, SNA). Second, the president has increased the use of public funds on massive infrastructure projects and on combatting the coronavirus. For its part, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates Mexico’s already fraught struggles to combat corruption with the government’s largely unchecked spending amidst real-time, emergency, public health responses. “This combination will only increase the risk of more corruption,” cautions the report.

Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signs into law the National Anticorruption System in July 2016. Photo: Flickr, Presidencia de la República Mexicana.

Third, the president has continued to undermine and diminish the role of nongovernmental organizations and civil society – a sector that had grown more active in recent years in combatting corruption and calling attention to the need for reform. Finally, the nation’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UFI) has “drastically expanded its activities” in bringing potential cases of corruption against institutions, which ironically has reduced the independence and efficiency of the very anti-corruption agencies that it monitors, writes El Universal. When comparing such independent variables at the regional level, “Mexico appears to be ranked significantly below other countries like Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, and more closely to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.”

Public Perception and High-Profile Cases

Corruption in Mexico is nothing new. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2019, 44% of Mexicans interviewed in 2019 thought corruption had increased in the previous 12 months. An additional 34% of respondents had paid a bribe in the previous 12 months, a 10% decline from 2017. When asked if they believe most or all people involved in certain institutions are corrupt, 69% of respondents said police are, 58% said government officials are, and 65% said members of Congress are.  

Still, the López Obrador Administration has made some noteworthy investigations into high profile cases of corruption. This includes against the former Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP), the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the former head of Altos Hornos de México, and more than a dozen sitting judges and magistrates, including a Supreme Court Justice. Despite these advances, such cases of high-ranking officials and the general presence of corruption throughout Mexico’s government demonstrate just how pervasive and rooted the problem is.

Sources:

“Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem.” Justice in Mexico. June 11, 2019.

“Global Corruption Barometer: Latin America & The Caribbean 2019: Citizens’ Views and Experiences of Corruption.” Transparency International. September 2019.

Website. “Global Corruption Barometer: Latin America and the Caribbean: Mexico.” Transparency International. September 2019.

“Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security arrested in Texas.” Justice in Mexico. December 19, 2019.

“México sigue reprobado en lucha anticorrupción, según Índice de Capacidad para Combatir la Corrupción 2020.” El Universal. June 8, 2020.

“The 2020 Capacity to Combat Corruption Index.” Americas Society / Council of the Americas. June 8, 2020.

Simon, Roberto and Geert Aalbers. “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020.” Americas Society / Council of the Americas and Control Risks. June 8, 2020.

Bugarin, Inder. “Con la 4T, ven estancado combate a la corrupción en México.” El Universal. June 10, 2020.

“The 2020 Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index.” Americas Quarterly. Last accessed June 21, 2020.

The State of Anti-Corruption in Mexico

Credit: Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Protesters outside the attorney general’s office. Credit: Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

12/05/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa) – The antithesis of democracy and good governance, corruption has repeatedly undermined development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Over recent years, the region has endured numerous corruption scandals; most recently, Colombia’s oil refinery embezzlement and Brazil’s Odebrecht scandal exposed the magnitude of political graft and crony capitalism. The multifariousness of corruption undermines the crucial building-blocks of society, including access to information, human rights protections, political processes, judicial institutions, and economic policies.

Although the recent exposure and prosecution of corruption schemes across Latin America has stimulated regional dialogue on rule of law, public assessment of countries’ anti-corruption capacity remains perturbingly low. According to Transparency International’s latest Global Corruption Barometer, People and Corruption: Latin America and the Caribbean, corruption is on an upward trend. An average of 62% of over 22,000 Latin American constituents answered that the level of corruption in their respective country has increased since 2015. Moreover, 53% of the survey participants answered that their country’s government is poorly addressing the problem of corruption. The civil functionaries identified by the public as the most corrupt were elected officials and law enforcement agents, both indispensable to rule of law (Transparency International).

However, in this case, bad news may be good news. The regional spotlight on perpetrators of corruption has stimulated public discourse and action; as Latin American countries increasingly acknowledge institutional voids in governance, the stage is set for reform. Notwithstanding, regional cooperation and anti-corruption capacity building will be essential in addressing the demands for transparency and accountability.

Mexico has especially felt the cancer of corruption with malignancies across economic and political sectors. According to a 2015 report by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness corruption costs Mexico about 9% of its annual Gross Domestic Product (Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad, A. C.). Aside from draining Mexico’s pocketbooks, corruption has contributed to an increasingly disenchanted populous. Pew Research Center, identified Mexico’s top public concerns in 2017: crime, corrupt political leaders, and corrupt police officers. In a comparison between 2015 and 2017, these concerns have increased respectively by 10%, 12%, and 9% (Pew Research Center).  Moreover, Transparency International identified Mexico’s bribery rate as the highest in the region with 51% of the populace paying a bribe for public services in the past 12 months, followed by the Dominican Republic and Peru with 46% and 39%, respectively (Transparency International).

Highly publicized corruption scandals have only added fuel to the fire: including but not limited to, the massacre of 43 students and protestors from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero; the extended manhunt for the former governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, on charges of political graft and organized crime; the government surveillance spyware allegedly targeting a variety of high-profile human rights lawyers, anti-corruption activists and journalists; and allegations of negligence in the seismic wake of destruction following two earthquakes in September of 2017.

In response, the public voice in Mexico has increasingly clamored for transparency and accountability. The galvanized public paved the way for the creation of a National Anti-Corruption System (Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción, SNA), civil society organizations like Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (Mexicanos Contra La Corrupción y La Impunidad, MCCI) and Transparencia Mexicana, and citizen initiatives, including the “3for3 Law,” which calls upon elected representatives to disclose personal assets, conflicts of interest and taxes.

Juan Pardinas,President of the Mexico Institute for Competitiveness-Credit: Brett Gundlock, Bloomberg

Juan Pardinas, President of the Mexico Institute for Competitiveness -Credit: Brett Gundlock, Bloomberg

Nonetheless, the aforementioned anti-corruption stamina is arguably waning in the face of staunchly institutionalized corruption. The new anti-corruption system, SNA, has been hard-pressed to accomplish much against active government resistance, including, federal-level refusal to cooperate with corruption investigations, state-level inaction on constitutionally mandated deadlines, and multi-level withholding of information. Regardless of the government’s role in creating the SNA, critics argue that the initiative has been largely abandoned. Juan Pardinas, President of the Mexico Institute for Competitiveness, dubbed this abrupt turnabout a Mexican government placebo scheme, intended to quell public outrage without any substantial compliance (New York Times).

Although anti-corruption progress has been slow, there is hope for the future. With Mexico’s upcoming presidential elections in 2018, it is fair to assume that anti-corruption will be at the forefront of campaign platforms, seeking to allay public indignation and redeem government approval ratings. Likewise, this timely window of opportunity will offer the public a chance to demand pivotal action on anti-corruption reform and impress upon the future administration the strength of public will in Mexico.

For a recent, in-depth summary of anti-corruption efforts in Mexico, Justice in Mexico recommends reading the aforementioned New York Times article. See below.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/world/americas/mexico-corruption-commission.html

(in Spanish) https://www.nytimes.com/es/2017/12/02/mexico-enrique-pena-nieto-sistema-nacional-anticorrupcion-comite-ciudadano/?ref=en-US

 

Sources

Ahmed, Azam. “Anti-Corruption Drive, Commissioners Say.” The New York Times. December 2, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/world/americas/mexico-corruption-commission.html

Amparo Casar, M. “México: Anatomía de la corrupción. Instituto Mexicano para la competitividad A.C., Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas. May 2015. http://imco.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_Libro_completo_Anatomia_corrupcion.pdf

People and Corruption: Latin America and the Caribbean. Transparency International. October 2017. https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/global_corruption_barometer_people_and_corruption_latin_america_and_the_car

Vice, M. and Chwe, H. “Mexicans are downbeat about their country’s direction. Pew Research Center. September 2017. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/09/14/mexicans-are-downbeat-about-their-countrys-direction/